Biopharmaceutical companies see a promising future in weapons that could be more powerful and safer than many existing treatments.
Vaccines would prompt the body to attack the disease from within.
Medicine’s most active and best-funded area is largely made up of cancer vaccines and other emerging cancer immunotherapies. The treatments would harness the immune system in various ways to fight or prevent tumors. These treatments could generate $35 billion within a decade.
Vaccines are seen as promising, because compared with invasive surgery and toxic chemotherapy, they would have impressive results and minimal side effect.
This is not the first time drugmakers have attempted to develop cancer vaccines, in the past more failed clinical trials. These failures have enticed other companies to pursue difference immunotherapies that boost the immune system in general or attack specific parts of cancer cells.
Aduro BioTech in Berkeley recently licensed a vaccine for prostate cancer to Janssen Biotech, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson. In June, Johnson & Johnson as well as other investors financed other Aduro ventures in vaccination.
Scientists are having a tricky time designing therapeutic vaccines or vaccines that treat existing cancer. Cancer cells usually don’t seem dangerous or foreign to the body; therefore vaccines must be powerful enough to make the immune system go after specific targets without damaging “good” cells.
Currently the only cancer treatment vaccine available is Dendreon’s Provenge for men with metastatic prostate cancer.
One of Aduro’s vaccines includes Listeria monocytogenes, a germ that is known for contaminating food but has been engineered to be safe in humans. According to Aduro, Listeria has been shown to activate the immune system; it also boosts the effectiveness of other treatments and vaccines.
Another type of vaccine involves tumor cell lines that have been irradiated and engineered to prompt the immune system to go after tumor cells.